- Wedding menu planning can be difficult and the food is a big part of it.
- INSIDER asked 13 chefs from across the US for their dish recommendations.
- Beef tenderloin is a wedding entree classic for good reason.
- Chilled seafood salads are excellent for a warm-weather wedding, especially when you use fresh and seasonal fish.
Wedding food is difficult to get right, but it can help to go into your first catering meeting with a few crowd-pleasing dishes in mind.
To help your decisions, INSIDER asked 13 chefs from around the US to give us their top recommendations for wedding dishes.
Bacon-wrapped dates make excellent cocktail-hour hors d’oeuvres because they provide a perfect blend of sweet, salty, and umami flavours.
Chances are, you’ve seen a tray of bacon-wrapped dates circulating around a wedding cocktail hour before, and for excellent reason. These classic appetizers bring sweetness, saltiness, and savoury richness to the table, which makes them an unquestionably popular snack choice for large parties.
Phoebe Schilla, a San Francisco-based private chef who’s also a Cozymeal class instructor, openly declares herself a bacon-wrapped date fan. She refers to these treats as “bacon candy” and told INSIDER that “everyone young and old, loves bacon-wrapped dates. Plus, it’s easy to vary flavours by stuffing [the] dates with different ingredients, too.”
For an ideal one-bite cocktail appetizer, try Jose Garces’ corn croquettes.
During the cocktail portion of a wedding reception, appetizers should be portable and easy to eat without the extra trouble of utensils. James Beard-winning chef and “Iron Chef” alum Jose Garces has a winning solution to this often-challenging menu category – corn croquettes.
“Guests always rave about our cocktail hour, and this dish is a classic [for us]. It’s one of my favourite one-biters, with creamy creme fraiche and caviar that guests will love,” Garces said of his croquette recipe, which includes a cream made from huitlacoche (an edible fungus that grows on organic corn), shallot, garlic, and heavy cream.
He also adds cilantro pipian, a mayonnaise infused with cilantro and ground pumpkin seeds, to the breaded and fried corn puree, which is set with gelatin to help it retain its shape.
Braised meat dishes can efficiently (and deliciously) feed a crowd.
Dishes featuring braised meats can easily stand up to long services because their taste profiles grow more complex and intense as time goes by.
Chef Jose Meirelles of kosher French bistro Le Marais in New York City first discovered his love for braised meats as wedding entrees when catering Jewish weddings. “Because Jewish weddings tend to be large, I suggest creating a menu with entrees that are slow-cooked or braised, such as short ribs or Moroccan lamb stew. This way, you won’t have to concern yourself with the rare vs. well-done debate among guests,” Meirelles told INSIDER.
Banquet sous chef Melanie Cuartelon of Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida regularly creates wedding menus at her popular event venue and agreed that braised meats work wonderfully for large parties. Her particular favourite is raised short ribs.
“Braised short ribs are not only delicious, [but] they’re the perfect addition to a wedding menu. The fact that they pair well with so many different side dishes (mashed potatoes, risotto, pasta, polenta, etc.) allows for more customisation based on the bride and groom’s preferences. Whether the couple has chosen a buffet or a plated menu, braised short ribs make for a beautiful presentation. As a bonus, it’s a cost effective item for brides on a budget,” Curatelon explained.
When choosing side dishes for your reception, skip the flavourless steaming and blanching and go for roasted veggies instead.
Blanched and steamed vegetables show up constantly on catered menus, largely due to their easy prep, but in most circumstances, you’ll sacrifice flavour for the sake of getting large quantities done in a timely manner. That’s why roasting your vegetables works much better. It’s not difficult to roast high volumes of veggies, and cooking in the oven allows your produce’s best tastes to shine.
Chef Melanie Manuel of Celesta in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said that “the best dish to serve at a wedding is a roasted vegetable dish. Roasted vegetables retain a sweetness and hold their heat well for guests. [My personal] favourite is curried carrots with turmeric coconut yogurt topped with cilantro and served with a lemon wedge.”
Beef tenderloin is a wedding entree classic for good reason.
While it’s important to keep an open mind and look beyond the obvious choices when planning a wedding menu, certain items boast impressive longevity because they’re actually remarkably well-suited for a big and important occasion. A prime example is beef tenderloin.
Executive chef Chris Engel of Aureole in New York City recommends choosing an “everyone’s darling” dish like beef tenderloin for a wedding. “It’s a crowd-pleasing protein and appeals to picky eaters and gourmet diners alike. It’s a rich, luxurious cut which will be special and celebratory. At my upcoming wedding, I will be serving beef tenderloin for this very reason,” he said.
Chef Chris Rolewicz of Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile also enjoys beef tenderloin as a wedding entree, but he has a very specific presentation in mind, “for weddings, I enjoy the classics, like a grilled beef tenderloin with lobster risotto, morel mushrooms, Thumbelina carrots and a pinot noir demi. This has always been a crowd favourite. It’s a classic combination for a wedding with a nice presentation.”
If you’re planning a buffet-style service for your reception, a prime rib carving station provides your guests with fresh and juicy cuts.
In comparison to a chafing dish over a flame, the carving station model allows reception buffets to serve freshly-cut meat that hasn’t had the chance to dry out. When selecting the specific meat for your carving station, you’ll want a particularly juicy version, and executive chef Brandon Ingenito of City Winery, Washington DC, has just the solution – roasted prime rib.
“It’s tough to beat a classic when you want to serve something a large, diverse group of people at a wedding will love. A prime rib roast is juicy and flavorful. It’s also a great way to serve guests one by one so each person’s serving is hot and carved just the way they like it,” Ingenito told INSIDER.
Couples with some extra cash to throw around should invest in top-quality “Mishima Reserve” filet mignon.
If you have a sizable budget for reception eats, splurging on excellent, well-sourced beef cuts is a worthwhile use of those extra bucks. Executive chef Barry Dakake of Scotch 80 Prime in Las Vegas particularly recommends “Mishima Reserve” filet mignon, also known as “American Kobe.”
“The Mishima Reserve is an unbelievable flavorful filet mignon with high marbling. Perfect for weddings, easy to prepare, but [it is] quite costly, [so] hopefully, you only get married once. Now that we’re in the winter season, I [like] to make a strudel and compliment it with brussels sprouts. If you wanna get a little crazy, add some pancetta bacon to the sprouts. Finish the dish with a Cabernet sauce and drizzle with some fine extra virgin olive oil,” Dakake suggested.
It’s fine to serve chicken at weddings as long as the dish has personality, like Chicken Francaise.
Head chef Jon Beattie of The Renaissance, a top wedding venue in Richmond, Virginia, swears by Chicken Francaise, a breaded and fried chicken breast topped with lemon and butter sauce. “[Chicken Francaise] is one of my favourite entrees for a wedding. [It’s] a beautiful chicken breast that is herb-breaded and then pan-sauteed with a lemon-caper sauce. But one of the reasons why I love it the most is that it has a longer holding pattern than a grilled, non-breaded, or skinless [chicken] option.
“When you cook this chicken with its already super-tasty crust, again remembering your holding box temperatures, you can [then] drizzle a little of the partnering sauce and you have a perfect entree for your guests,” Beattie told INSIDER.
Chilled seafood salads are excellent for a warm-weather wedding, especially when you use fresh and seasonal fish.
If you’re having an outdoor reception during the summer, dishes that refresh and satisfy at the same time are a solid choice. Chilled seafood salads fall into that category, and if your reception chef can get her hands on some super-fresh seafood, it will be an unbeatable start to your meal.
Executive chef James Carpenter oversees the kitchen at the Southampton Inn, one of the premier wedding venues in the Hamptons. His clients regularly ask for flavorful seafood starters to their reception feasts, and when those requests come in, he has a favourite dish to suggest – lobster mango salad.
“Lobster mango salad with lemon crème fraiche, avocado mousse, and optional caviar is an ideal dish for large, sit-down weddings. This delicious dish can be plated in advance and served very quickly as a first course. It provides an elegant touch for a sophisticated couple’s destination wedding in the Hamptons,” Carpenter explained.
For a more substantial fish option, shift away from salmon and check out Chilean sea bass.
Pescatarians frequently have a single entree option at wedding receptions – salmon, or bust. However, if you want to mix up your menu and include a fish choice that’s substantial, satisfying, and delicious, give Chilean sea bass a try.
Chef de cuisine Sean Carney of the waterfront Madison Beach Hotel in Madison, Connecticut, likes to pair Chilean sea bass with citrus and grassy herbs, which add brightness and balance to the already-flavorful fish. “Citrus and herb encrusted Chilean sea bass with Mediterranean couscous and a tomato coulis [is a] light yet filling dish [that] features bright flavours perfect for a memorable wedding dining option. Chilean sea bass is a pleasant and ‘hearty’ fish that pairs well with the acid of the citrus and [the] herb crust,” Carney recommended.
Consider swapping out the big entrees for small-plate stations.
Rather than serving a large entree course at your wedding reception, give your guests the chance to try a variety of items by setting up small-plate stations.
Executive chef John Zucker of Cru Catering in Charleston, South Carolina, has seen this concept work beautifully at many of the weddings he’s catered, told INSIDER that “one thing I like to do at weddings is push small-plate stations. When we do those [stations], people are getting more of a restaurant-style service with multiple choices. A crowd favourite is our braised short ribs with roasted root vegetables and braising jus. It’s easy to serve, it holds up well, and you don’t have to worry about any issues with over or under-cooking.”
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